Policy Audit: 'Marriage Above All Else': The Push for Heterosexual, Nuclear Families in the Making of South Africa's White Paper on Families

Charles, T.
Institute of Development Studies (IDS)
Publication date: 
Friday, 15 November, 2013


South Africa

This report comments on the policymaking processes that led to the development of the White Paper on Families as it exists in its current iteration (November 2013).

The report highlights the power dynamics that have led to the inclusion and exclusion of specific content and language, particularly around the notion of what constitutes a family in contemporary South Africa. It considers the diverse roles played in the drafting of this document by civil society representatives, government representatives and the general public.

On the basis of interviews with these actors and a close reading of the white paper, this report points to two worrying trends in the making of policies and laws in South Africa: (1) public policy in South Africa is becoming increasingly conservative as a result of religious and cultural doctrines which do not recognise sexual diversity or support the engendering of human rights in society; (2) the South African government and its representatives are promoting a heteronormative value system in its policy and programming, despite resistance from civil society.

Most significantly, this paper illustrates that the cabinet's approval of this policy could mean that access to resources will be determined by the extent to which one's family fits the narrow, heterosexist definition of a family being promoted in the white paper.

  • South Africa is the only country in Africa where same-sex marriage is legal.
  • Despite a progressive constitution which outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, non-heterosexual families continue to be excluded from the benefits of the South African welfare system
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